Desert Rats

The desert rat, more commonly known as the desert woodrat, is a small pack rat that can be found in deserts in North America and Mexico. They are gray with a very distinct bi-colored tail. The desert rat is not as popular as fancy rats or Dumbo rats for pets, but they can be kept in captivity and domesticated.

Desert Rats Facts

desert ratA desert rat can make a fantastic pet, but they are solitary creatures. They can become aggressive if kept with other rats, even members of their own species. For this reason, always keep desert rats apart from one another and other rats. Much like dogs, they should not be bothered while eating or drinking. They are very protective of their food and water sources, even in captivity.

These rats build large nests out of nearly anything they can scavenge. This is why they are called ‘pack rats’. They can carry sticks, leaves, and shoots for more than a mile to incorporate it into their nest. Desert rats are very intelligent, as they often place cactus branches along the entrance to their nest to prevent theft of their food stores.

Female desert rats can have up to three litters of young per season. The young reside in the nest with their mother, and she can become very aggressive toward any animal that dares to venture too close.

Caring for a Desert Rat

desert ratIn the wild, desert rats eat nuts, berries, seeds, and plants. Although there are many commercially prepared rat foods that are perfectly suitable for a desert rat, supplementing its diet with organically grown berries, nuts, and leafy greens will substantially improve its quality of life. Suitable species of cacti and yucca plants can be kept in the home for feedings as well, as long as they are not treated with chemical pesticides. Remember to remove any fresh foods from the cage daily to prevent sickness, as a rat will eat nearly anything.

A desert rat in captivity will thrive if its habitat mimics that of a wild habitat. A desert rat needs a rather large cage, complete with materials for building its nest. It is important to house only one rat per cage, as they are very protective of their nests and food.

Desert rats live anywhere from one to three years, and veterinary care is necessary if the rat should fall ill. Medical treatment for rats is very similar regardless of the species.

desert ratIn the wild, desert rats stay hydrated by eating and drinking from cactus plants. Some desert rat owners have found that water bottles are not always a good option for providing water to the rat. Small water bowls often work better for this species. Spraying greens with filtered water before a feeding is also a great way to provide a desert rat with water similar to how it is found in the wild.

Desert rats make great pets for adults, but children should be supervised when handling them. During any interaction with a desert rat, watch carefully for signs of aggression and immediately return the rat to its cage if it starts to become frustrated.